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Ranking the best prebiotic supplements of 2021

Written by John Davis

Last updated: November 26, 2020

Prebiotics are nutrients that help the beneficial bacteria in your stomach and intestines grow and multiply.

These probiotic bacteria feed off the “bacteria food” in prebiotics, and a healthy gut bacteria population is linked to better digestive health, immune system function, weight loss, improvements in mood, and reduction in stress.

With the health of your gut microbiome being one of the biggest medical frontiers of the 21st century, you want a prebiotic supplement that will keep your healthy gut bacteria (plus any probiotics you take through a supplement) flourishing.

We’ve evaluated and ranked the best prebiotic supplements on the market right now.

Rankings

1. 1MD Complete Probiotics with Prebiotic Fiber

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For those who’re serious about taking the most potent prebiotic, 1MD Complete Probiotics with Prebiotic Fiber is the best stuff you can get.

No other prebiotic supplement can compete with the 51 billion cultures and 11 unique strains with each serving.

Their patented “NutraFlora” Prebiotic Fiber is included to help assist in maintaining the vitality and growth of the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains.

Why is this important?

The prebiotic makes sure the cultures get the fuel they need to really make a difference in your gut”, says Dr. David Kahana MD, who is board certified in Pediatrics and Gastroenterology through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP).

From overall immune health to providing your body with better digestion and gut health, 1MD Complete Probiotics with Fiber Prebiotics is one of the better daily habits you can have in the supplement space.

No “fillers.”

Made in the USA and in an FDA-approved facility.

BodyNutrition‘s all-around prebiotic supplement winner of 2021.

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2. Performance Lab Prebiotic

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Performance Lab Prebiotic is a no-nonsense, single-ingredient (active ingredient) supplement designed to improve your gut health.

The active ingredient within Prebiotic by Performance Lab is Inulin-FOS, a combination of Inulin, a polysaccharide, and FOS (FructoOligoSaccharides), a natural sweetener found in fruit. Both Inulin and FOS are soluble fibers that can help improve digestive health.

Inulin-FOS is particularly hardy, able to survive traveling through the stomach and small intestine to the colon without being broken down. This means that it can feed probiotic bacteria and help to increase this “good” bacteria.

3. Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Fiber Prebiotic

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Garden of Life has a very carefully crafted fiber prebiotic that uses five different sources of fiber to create an optimal environment for probiotic bacterial growth.

By consulting with a nationally renowned expert in the body’s microbiome, Garden of Life chose their ingredients to gain some extra benefits from the plants that provide the fiber: baoba, apple, orange, cranberry, and acacia.

These plant materials may help curtail hunger as well, making this a good choice if you are taking a probiotic supplement and are also trying to lose weight. With these extra benefits and strong sources of fiber, it’s our top choice.

4. Hyperbiotics Prebiotic

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Hyperbiotics Prebiotic is a powder-based prebiotic supplement that contains fiber from acacia, Jerusalem artichoke, and green banana flour.

This provides a substrate and food source for beneficial bacteria in your stomach to multiply. The broad range of fibers and combination of starch from banana flour and fiber from plant materials make it suitable for a wide range of probiotic bacteria.

5. Dr. Tobias Gutmeister

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Dr. Tobias offers a prebiotic formulation that’s decidedly different from anything else on the market. While other supplements use fiber and starch to encourage good bacteria to grow, Gutmeister uses a patented formulation that targets and kills “bad” bacteria which frees up nutrients for good bacteria to grow and multiply.

While this is an unconventional approach, there are clinical trials supporting its efficacy, which makes it an excellent choice. Because it’s not fiber-based, it also avoids the bloating and gas that can result from a high-fiber prebiotic

6. Prebiotin

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Prebiotin is a powder-based prebiotic that uses fiber from inulin, a plant material that’s rich in oligosaccharides. These long chains of sugar are a particularly effective source of food for probiotic bacteria.

The fiber content is lower than in some other supplements, but this should be offset by the oligosaccharide content, which works synergistically with the fiber.

7. BioSchwartz Advanced Prebiotic

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BioSchwartz makes a comprehensive prebiotic supplement that includes both oligosaccharides and advanced plant extracts that are designed to boost bacteria levels in your intestine. The variety of ingredients is good, but the plant extracts are hidden in a proprietary blend, which makes it slightly less attractive. 

8. vH Probiotics and Prebiotics with Cranberry

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vH makes a specially formulated supplement that’s tailored to women specifically. This supplement combines the probiotic power of bacillus and lactobacillus probiotic colony forming units as well as inulin for oligosaccharides.

It also includes 500 mg of cranberry powder, which the company claims boosts probiotic growth. However, the consequence of so many ingredients is that the overall prebiotic content is quite low, and there is no fiber in this supplement either.

9. BeLive Probiotic Fiber Gummies

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BeLive Probiotic Fiber Gummies are a good choice if you don’t like the taste of other fiber powders, or hate mixing powders into a drink.

There are some downsides, though: each gummy has only 1.6 grams of fiber, and is flavored with sugar alcohols, which don’t always sit well with everyone. They do, however, have a decent quantity of fructooligosaccharides to promote probiotic growth.

10. Regular Girl Prebiotic and Probiotic Blend

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Regular Girl makes a female-specific blend of prebiotics and probiotics. The probiotic content is a high dosage (eight billion colony forming units), but it’s just one bacterial strain.

The prebiotic that Regular Girl uses is guar fiber, which provides a substrate and food for bacteria but doesn’t really distinguish itself in any particular way.

11. Pinnaclife Prebiotic Fiber

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Pinneclife Prebiotic Fiber combines the bacteria boosting effects of fiber derived from maltodextrin, processed in a way to make it resistant to digestion, plus a proprietary blend of various antioxidants designed to support healthy bacteria.

The intent is good, but the proprietary blend of these ingredients doesn’t quite measure up to what you’d get from some of the top-ranked supplements. It will still boost beneficial bacteria levels, but perhaps not to the extent of other supplements with better quality fibers.

Category winners

Best prebiotic overall: 1MD Complete Probiotics with Prebiotic Fiber

1MD takes the crown thanks to its highly effective NutraFlora prebiotic fiber, which allows healthy intestinal bacteria to flourish. On top of that, 1MD Complete also provides an eye-popping 51 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria, making it an easy pick for the number one spot. 

Best prebiotic for athletes: Performance Lab Prebiotic

Tough strength or endurance training can do some real damage to your gastrointestinal health. Athletes can combat diarrhea, constipation, and bloating with Performance Lab Prebiotic, which uses a super-simple inulin and fructooligosaccharide (FOS) approach to foster healthier gut microbiomes. 

Best prebiotic for women: Hyperbiotics Prebiotic

Many women don’t get enough fiber in their diet, which hurts the diversity of their gut bacteria. Hyperbiotics Prebiotics provides three different naturally occurring sources of fiber to nourish women’s probiotic bacteria. 

Best prebiotic for diarrhea and constipation: 1MD Complete Probiotics with Prebiotic Fiber

For fighting gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and constipation, it’s best to take prebiotics alongside high doses of probiotics—that way, you get healthy bacteria and nutrients to sustain them at the same time. 1MD excels in this department, providing fiber plus 51 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria strains for better gut health.

Best prebiotic for weight loss: Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Fiber Prebiotic

Garden of Life uses an all-natural fiber-based approach to nurturing healthy bacteria, making it great for weight loss. Not only do higher levels of probiotic bacteria make it easier to lose weight, the fiber itself acts as an appetite suppressant. Easily the top pick for people on a diet. 

Best prebiotic and probiotic combination: 1MD Complete Probiotics with Prebiotic Fiber

While the traditional strategy for prebiotic supplements is using them to maintain an already-healthy gut microbiome, 1MD offers an all-in-one solution to supplying your body with new cultures of healthy bacteria, plus the nutrients they need to thrive.

Who should buy prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a great addition to your supplementation routine if you are looking to improve the quality of your gut bacteria, or enhance the efficacy of a probiotic supplement that you already take. The benefits of better gut bacteria include improvements in symptoms from inflammatory bowel disorders, improvements in your immune system, weight loss, and even positive benefits to your mood.

Why are the benefits of prebiotics so varied? This has to do with the link between your gut bacteria and the function of both your immune system and the neurotransmitters that regulate your mood.

Much of your body’s immune system regulation is linked to your gut, and having a healthy and flourishing population of healthy bacteria in your gut upregulates your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. On top of that, abnormal gut bacteria have been linked to autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

The connection to mood may seem less obvious, but 90% of your body’s serotonin is actually produced in your gut. Additionally, abnormal gut bacteria populations have also been linked to mood disorders like clinical depression.

Buying prebiotics is a great idea if you want to address any of these health problems and think they might be linked to your gut bacteria.

Importantly, prebiotics are only helpful if you already have some beneficial bacteria in your system. As such, they’re best combined with probiotic supplements or foods rich in probiotic bacteria strains, such as cheese, yogurt, kimchi, or kombucha.

How we ranked

When browsing for a prebiotic supplement, it can sometimes be hard to pin down what exactly constitutes a prebiotic versus a probiotic versus a run of the mill fiber supplement.

Our definitions were as follows: probiotic supplements must have a substantial amount of live bacterial cultures, and moreover, must list the amount of colony forming units (or CFUs) included in each serving.

A prebiotic may or may not contain live bacteria, but must contain at least one ingredient that promotes the growth of probiotic bacterial strains, whether that’s fructooligosaccharides, fiber, or other compounds that can be digested as energy by probiotic bacteria. Finally, a fiber supplement is one that only contains fibrous ingredients, like psyllium husk, but does not contain any specific ingredients targeted at probiotic bacteria growth.

To make our rankings, we first discounted products that were only probiotic supplements, or only fiber supplements. Each of these categories of supplements have their own specific applications, but they aren’t the best tools for improving the quality of your gut microbiome.

After removing these brands, we started to look at specific ingredients. We gave top priority to prebiotic supplements that included multiple different sources of food for probiotic bacteria, such as the acacia fiber, Jerusalem artichoke, and green banana flour combination found in Hyperbiotics Prebiotic.

At this point, we found enough high-quality prebiotic supplements with multiple bacteria-beneficial ingredients that we ended up dropping the remaining prebiotics that had only a single prebiotic nutrient, such as Micro Ingredients Inulin Powder—while inulin can be a great prebiotic, it’s outclassed by multi-ingredient supplements like Genesis Today Superfood Powder.

We gave a bit of extra weight to products that had live probiotic bacterial cultures, but didn’t require it. We did not put much weight on how much bacteria a prebiotic had; remember, the purpose of a prebiotic is not to deliver bacteria themselves (if you want to do this, check out our probiotic rankings instead).

Some products that ended up highly ranked, like 1MD Complete Probiotics, do contain live bacteria, while others, such as Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Fiber Prebiotic, did not.

Our final criteria were purity, dosage, and efficacy. We ditched supplements that were packed with artificial flavoring, sugar for flavoring, or artificial colors. These just aren’t necessary in a prebiotic supplement, and in the case of sugar, could actually encourage the wrong kind of bacteria to grow in your intestines. If you have issues with the flavor (or lack thereof) of a powder-based prebiotic, you can always mix it into a green superfood drink or a protein shake.

Our final rankings represent the best prebiotics on the market right now, sorted by the potential of their ingredients to boost your body’s probiotic bacteria populations.

Benefits

Prebiotics are “food” for beneficial bacteria. A prebiotic supplement provides the food and the substrate that probiotic bacteria need to take hold in your digestive system. Probiotics can digest substances that your body can’t, like fiber and long chains of sugars called oligosaccharides. 

Taking probiotics for a healthier gut bacteria population is great, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if they can’t grow and multiply effectively. Because probiotics are such a popular topic of research, prebiotics have been the subject of a great number of scientific studies as well.

In terms of concrete uses, prebiotic can help you achieve improved gastrointestinal health, better mood regulation, decreased stress hormone levels, and increased weight loss.

Prebiotics with fiber can improve gastrointestinal health. One of the earliest avenues of research into the function of probiotic bacteria was in chronic conditions of the gastrointestinal tract like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

It appears that fiber-based prebiotic supplements are helpful for treating these conditions, according to a scientific article published in 2014 by researchers at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London (1).

In a review of previous research, the authors conclude that taking supplemental fiber helps increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract in people with inflammatory bowel diseases, which in turn decreases inflammation and improves symptoms.

Prebiotics also tend to improve the function of the mucous layer that lines the stomach and intestines, protecting it from damage by substances that are in the digestive tract.

A prebiotic supplement with oligosaccharides can improve your immune function. Emerging research is demonstrating that your immune system and your digestive system are closely linked.

According to a study published in 2005 in the British Journal of Nutrition, consuming oligosaccharides, which are digestible by probiotic bacteria, increases production of a component of the immune system called natural killer cells (2). These are what seek out and destroy harmful pathogens inside your body.

The same properties appear to be associated with inulin, which explains why it’s in so many prebiotic supplements. The authors even hypothesize that the increased immune function could potentially decrease risk for colon cancer, and call for future research to examine that topic.

Prebiotics can help prevent weight gain. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007 by a team of researchers at Baylor College of Medicine examined the effects of a year-long prebiotic supplement routine in comparison to a placebo (3).

Nearly 100 adolescents were given either a prebiotic supplement or a placebo, and the medical researchers tracked their increase in body mass index over the course of the year. The results showed that the prebiotic supplement resulted in less of an increase in body mass index at the study’s conclusion, furthering the hypothesis that a healthy population of gut bacteria is important for fending off weight gain.

Interestingly, they also found that having high calcium levels appeared to be protective against weight gain, which indicates that there may be some interaction between probiotic bacteria levels and micronutrients like calcium, but the complexities of these kinds of relationships are far from being understood.

Prebiotics can lower your stress levels and increase attention to positive emotion. Beyond just the physiological, the benefits of a prebiotic supplement appear to extend into the psychological realm too.

A study published in the journal Psycho-Pharmacology examined the emotional and hormonal effects of a fiber-based prebiotic supplement on levels of the stress hormone cortisol and self-reported positive and negative emotions (4).

The researchers tested the prebiotic supplement in comparison to a placebo over the course of three weeks and found two remarkable results. First, the prebiotic supplement lowered levels of cortisol, which indicates lower levels of stress.

Second, the prebiotic resulted in decreased attention to negative emotions and increased attention to positive emotions, indicating that a prebiotic supplement could boost your mood and decrease stress.

Prebiotics can help older adults boost the levels of beneficial bacteria in their intestines. Much of the research on probiotics and prebiotics to date has focused on people with various health problems, or on young and healthy volunteers, but new research is showing that prebiotics can be beneficial for older adults too.

A study published in 212 in the British Journal of Nutrition recruited a group of older adults (age 50 and older) , and randomly assigned to receive either a juice with four grams of prebiotics per day, or a placebo juice (5).

After three weeks, the groups were switched. Throughout the study, the researchers tracked the levels of specific beneficial bacteria in the volunteers by monitoring levels of these bacteria in fecal samples taken regularly. The levels of beneficial bacteria were significantly higher in the volunteers while they were taking the prebiotic supplement compared to the placebo, which suggests that adults over 50 can benefit from prebiotics even at fairly moderate doses.

Prebiotics can help lower blood triglycerides. Blood triglycerides are major risk factors for heart disease, and much of the research on blood triglycerides and heart disease links levels of triglycerides to dietary content.

Given this connection, it makes sense that there would be a link between triglycerides and your gut bacteria—they do help digest your food, after all.

A systematic review published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in 2015 examined thirteen different randomized controlled trials that tested the effects of prebiotic supplementation on lipid metabolism (as well as insulin concentrations, which we have already seen are beneficially affected by prebiotic supplementations) over the course of several weeks of supplementation (6).

After pooling the results of the studies, the researchers found that prebiotic supplementation resulted in a significant decrease in blood triglycerides, as well as a decrease in blood cholesterol levels.

These findings suggest that prebiotics could be an incredibly useful tool for reducing risk factors for heart disease, particularly in people who have other risk factors for heart disease as well, such as type two diabetes or obesity.

Side effects

From a medical standpoint, prebiotic supplements are very safe—their ingredients are not particularly biologically active.

However, one well-documented side effect seen in many studies is bloating and gas, which results from the rapid growth of probiotic bacteria in your stomach and the resultant increase in production of gas.

This side effect appears to be worse in people who do not have much fiber in their diet. The good news is that these side effects do decrease over time as your body acclimates to higher fiber intake.

You can also try gradually ramping up your dosage over time to acclimate to prebiotics without inducing these side effects.

Recommended dose

Research on probiotics is in its early stage, so scientific studies are all over the board with their dosage of prebiotics. The best review on dosing guidelines so far comes from researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom (7).

They recommend a minimum of four grams per day for prebiotics that use inulin or oligosaccharides, and a maximum of 20 grams per day. Doses beyond this level may create the gastrointestinal side effects that characterize some prebiotic supplements.

That being said, prebiotic supplements appear to follow a dose-response relationship: that is, more tends to be better.

A study by researchers at the University of Nebraska Lincoln compared a 2.5 gram, a 5 gram, and a 10 gram daily dosage level of a prebiotic supplement and found that the best results came from higher doses of the prebiotic supplement (8).

FAQ

Q: What is a prebiotic?

A: “Prebiotic” is a broad term for any nutrient that promotes the growth of probiotic bacteria in your body. Prebiotics include things as simple as dietary fiber, and things as sophisticated as fructooligosaccharides or special fruit or vegetable extracts.

Typically, these ingredients can be consumed by bacteria, but not your body, for energy. Take dietary fiber, a simple example: it can’t be digested for calories by your body, so it lasts a lot longer in your digestive tract than a standard nutrient like carbohydrates or sugar.

A probiotic bacteria, however, like bifidobacterium, can digest fiber, so the increased presence of this nutrient helps boost the levels of these bacteria.

Q: What is an example of a prebiotic?

A: One good example of a common prebiotic is fructooligosaccharides. This compound can be found in small amounts in plant sources like bananas, jicama, and chicory root. It’s a sweetener, but your body can’t digest it for calories the way it can digest fructose or glucose.

Probiotic bacteria strains, on the other hand, do digest fructooligosaccharides quite well, so when you take a prebiotic supplement that contains this compound, the levels of probiotic bacteria in your body increase substantially thanks to the extra “bacteria food” present.

However, one caveat to this is that you do need your beneficial bacteria to have a foothold already before you take a prebiotic for it to be beneficial. If your gut microbiome is not in good condition, you’ll want to take your prebiotics alongside a probiotic supplement or probiotic food.

Q: Is raw apple cider vinegar a prebiotic?

A: Technically, yes, as long as apple cider vinegar contains the “mother,” it contains some live bacteria. The mother is the cloudy sediment of bacteria and bacteria spores that convert the sugar in apples into vinegar, but there’s one important drawback, according to the University of Chicago’s Medical School (9).

This drawback is the fact that these bacterial strains haven’t been intensively studied for their health benefits. The probiotics with stronger evidence for beneficial effects come from other sources, such as dairy. An additional drawback to relying on apple cider vinegar as a probiotic is the fact that you can’t consume very much of it due to its acidity. Too much apple cider vinegar can cause erosion of the enamel of your teeth.

Q: Is Metamucil a prebiotic?

A: Since Metamucil is a fiber supplement, it does technically count as a prebiotic. However, we didn’t include Metamucil or any other fiber-only supplements in our rankings of the best prebiotic supplements on the market, because so many other supplements provide much more than just fiber to promote probiotic bacteria growth.

Fiber is digestible by probiotic bacteria strains like lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, so it does help increase their levels in your gut. However, when you combine fiber with other ingredients, like chicory root extract, you can get a much better boost to probiotic bacteria levels.

Q: Can prebiotics help you lose weight?

A: Yes, the evidence supporting prebiotic supplementation for weight loss has increased substantially in the past decade. There is definitely a connection between probiotic bacteria levels, and obesity (plus the health conditions linked to obesity, such as heart disease and type two diabetes).

Plenty of research supports using probiotic supplements to assist with weight loss, but more recent research has also tested using prebiotic ingredients, with strong success.

Supplementation with prebiotics is not an end-all-be-all solution for weight loss, but shifting your gut bacteria towards a more healthy balance can help increase thermogenesis and decrease your appetite. These effects make it a lot easier to lose weight.

Q: Are prebiotics good for kids?

A: Children are perhaps the one population that have been under-researched with respect to prebiotic supplementation: we just don’t have the research yet to know if kids respond differently to prebiotics than adults or the elderly.

Prebiotic and probiotic research initially focused on people with inflammatory conditions in their intestines, like Crohn’s disease, then expanded to adults with conditions like obesity and type two diabetes.

More recently, research has expanded to look at older adults and even infants, but for now, healthy children remain under-researched. Within a few years, we should know more about whether kids also benefit from prebiotic supplementation, and if so, whether there are any particular considerations that need to be taken.

Q: What is the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic?

A: A probiotic is an easier supplement to define: to be considered a probiotic supplement, a product must contain live bacterial cultures that will multiply once inside your body. A good probiotic will specify exactly how many colony-forming units (CFUs) are included per serving of a probiotic.

A prebiotic, on the other hand, contains nutrients that boost the ability of probiotic bacteria to thrive and multiply in your body. Prebiotics, such as those in our rankings, will include ingredients like fructooligosaccharides or various fiber sources.

Confusingly, prebiotic-focused supplements can sometimes include live bacterial cultures as a secondary ingredients, and probiotics will sometimes also include prebiotic ingredients. The distinction comes in the primary purpose of the supplement: Is it to deliver live bacteria? If so, it’s a probiotic. Is it to provide nutrients for beneficial bacteria? If so, it’s a prebiotic.

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Recap

Prebiotic supplements have a remarkable range of benefits, thanks to the wide-reaching importance of your gut bacteria. A prebiotic supplement can help improve inflammatory bowel diseases, boost the functioning of your immune system, prevent weight gain, decrease your stress levels, and improve your mood.

These benefits are impressive, but all of these functions revolve around the ability of a prebiotic supplement to increase the levels of the good bacteria in your digestive tract.

The best strategy is to take a prebiotic supplement that includes both fiber and oligosaccharides or inulin, and aim for a dosage of at least four grams per day. If you get bloating or gas, you can try a lower dosage for a while as your body becomes acclimated to the increased levels of probiotic bacteria in your stomach and intestines.

From a dosage standpoint, it appears that a higher dose creates a stronger boost in good bacteria levels, so to the extent that you can tolerate doses of five or ten grams of prebiotic bacteria per day, you should strive for doses in that range.

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 prebiotic supplement recommendation, click here.

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John Davis

John Davis is a Minneapolis-based health and fitness writer with over 7 years of experience researching the science of high performance athletics, long-term health, nutrition, and wellness. As a trained scientist, he digs deep into the medical, nutritional, and epidemiological literature to uncover the keys to healthy living through better nutrition.